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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



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Maori Legends of Tongariro

Tongariro is traditionally the belly of the fish that Maui caught and there are many Maori legends concerning the mountain. Sir George Grey records that Ngatoroirangi, the archpriest of Arawa canoe, saw the summit of Tongariro and commenced to climb to it. Before he left his followers, he bade them to fast until his return. When he was nearly at the top, his followers disobeyed him and Ngatoroirangi all but perished. Almost at his last gasp, he prayed to his gods in Hawaiki to send fire and produce a volcano in the mountain. His prayers were heard, and the gods sent fire which came to him by way of Whakaari (White Island), Moutohora, Okakaru, the Rotorua thermal district, Tarawera, Paeroa, Orakeikorako, and Taupo. It travelled underground, spouting up at these places, and finally ascended to the top of Tongariro to revive him. The Tuwharetoa tribe has a variant of this legend, which explains the birth of the volcanoes and the naming of Tongariro and Ngauruhoe. According to this version, Ngatoroirangi had visited the Taupo – National Park district in order to lay claim to the territory. Near Rangipo he met Hapekituarangi who, he discovered, was on a similar errand. In order to forestall his rival, Ngatoroirangi decided to climb Tongariro and thus lay claim to whatever lands he could view from the summit. After rendering the mountain tapu to his rival, he began his climb. When he reached the summit he was chilled almost to death by the strong south wind. Weakened by the cold and the strenuous climb, he called aloud to his ancestral spirits and to his powerful sisters, Kuiwai and Haungaroa, who were in Hawaiki, to send fire to warm him. His call was answered, in the manner described by Grey. The name, Tonga-riro, commemorates the cold south wind, which chilled Ngatoroirangi.

by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington and Thomas Ludovic Grant-Taylor, M.SC., New Zealand Geological Survey, Lower Hutt.

  • Geology of the Tongariro Subdivision, Geological Survey Bulletin 40 N.S., Gregg, D. R. (1960).